St. John City Guide
About St. John
St John is the smallest of the US Virgin islands. This island known for its rocky coastline, white sand beaches and stunning bays is a favored vacation destination for holiday makers who cherish peace and tranquility in a stunning setting. Much of St John is today a national park, reputed to be a paradise for nature lovers for it offers miles of hiking trails, lush forests, secluded coves and reefs and shimmering white sand beaches. The pace on St John is definitely laid back and as some frequent travelers state ‘sleepy.’
The history of St John can be traced back to the 18th century, when Danish immigrants arrived on this remote island paradise and established sugarcane plantations here. However these plantations went into decline after the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century and in 1917 the US purchased St John from Denmark. News of the pristine beauty of the island began to spread and the island soon became a choice vacation destination.
In 1956, much of the land on St John was purchased by Laurence Rockefeller, who then went on to gift it as park land to the US Government in an effort to preserve its pristine loveliness. St John continues to remain a relatively untouched paradise until today, which largely attracts nature loving vacationers who wish for a beach vacation without the trappings of modern day commercialization.
Where to stay in St. John
Cruz Bay is the main urban settlement on St John and if you are a vacationer who enjoys having modern day conveniences like bars, restaurants and shopping close at hand, then chances are you will elect to stay at a resort hotel located in Cruz Bay.
This is a smaller settlement located on the East End of the island that also offers accommodation options along with bars, shops, restaurants and a wide array of water sports.
Around the National Park
The Virgin Islands national park occupies much of the island and encompasses many beautiful bays like Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay, both of which are equipped with camping facilities and offer water sports on their sandy beaches.
Places to see in St. John
The island paradise of St John offers a few sight-seeing options and visitors often choose to book taxi tours that are available for various durations to take in the few sights available on the island.
The Virgin Islands National Park
The Virgin Islands National Park is St John’s star attraction. This park extends over 12,624 acres of the island and adjacent underwater sites offer a plethora of historical, cultural and geographical attractions.
Located within the park on Leinster Bay Road are the ruins of the Annaberg plantation. This plantation and sugar mill was once a thriving commercial enterprise which was established by the Danes in 1718. Another point of interest is the Fort Berg in Coral Bay which served as a base for soldiers who crushed a slave uprising in 1733. The Park Rangers usually offer guided tours of these historical sites for visitors.
Other popular attractions in the park include sites like Trunk Bay, rumored to be most beautiful beach in the world and the petroglypghs carved into the Reef Bay hiking trail that offer much information about the indigenous Taino people who inhabited the island before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
The park also hosts the Virgin Islands Coral Reef monument which can be accessed at a spot called Hurricane Hole. This area is located at the south end of the island encompasses 12,708 acres of land which lies beneath the water’s surface that contains an eco-system made up of coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds.
The Ram Head Trail
The Virgin Islands National Park offers an assortment of hiking trails and if you enjoy active pursuits while on vacation then these hiking trails present an ideal outlet for your energy. One of the most popular hiking trails on St John is the Ram Head Trail that extends over 1.5 miles and originates at Salt Pond Bay beach. The trail hugs the shoreline and passes by way of the stunning Blue Cobblestone beach until it winds up a hillside and ends at an outcrop that is located 60 meters above the cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea. The trail offers ample opportunity to enjoy the unique flora and fauna of the island and is a definite must do for natural lovers vacationing on the island.
Best time to visit St. John
The US Virgin Islands have a subtropical climate that is characterized by hot and humid weather for much of the year. This scorching heat that prevails year round is somewhat tempered by the sea breezes though the island also experiences a rainy season that extends from September to November. Most vacationers tend to book vacations to St John between the months of December to April when much of the northern hemisphere experiences frigid winter climes. If you are a diving or snorkeling enthusiast, you may perhaps want to consider a vacation in St John during the months of April and August, for at this time, the sea is usually relatively calm and offers greater underwater visibility.
Getting around in St. John
St John doesn’t have its own airport so most vacationers fly into St Thomas’ Cyril E King airport and then take a ferry from St Thomas to access St John. This intra-island ferry ride usually takes 20 minutes and transports holiday makers to Cruz Bay, which is the main urban settlement on St John.
Public transport on St John is provided by a bus service called Vitran (which also operated buses on St Thomas) and taxis. Taxis on St John are usually hailed on the street though you can even call for one when the need arises. Most visitors who book vacations to St John however elect to hire a car or a four wheel drive for the duration of their stay on the island. Renting a car on St John gives you the flexibility to explore the island as and when you please though you have to be aware that driving rules on the island require you to drive on the left and strictly follow speed limits that are posted along the roads.
If you are desirous of renting a car for your St. John vacation, you may want to check with Fare Buzz before you make your car rental reservation, for Fare Buzz offers a wide array of affordable car rentals for St John which can be booked via its regular travel booking platforms.
Where to shop in St. John
St John is not really known for its shopping options though it does host two main shopping hubs in its Cruz Bay and Coral Bay areas. These two areas are the island’s epicenters for shopping and are quite scenic, populated as they are with old–world buildings and woodsy areas.
Mongoose Junction, an enclave which encompasses a cluster of shops and boutiques offering locally made wares like hand-made jewelry, crafts, artworks and pottery is the main shopping area in Cruz Bay. Popular boutiques and galleries located here include stores like Bajo el Sol (offering paintings, ceramics, and jewelry), Bamboula (offering novelty gift items from around the world) and Best of Both Worlds (gift items and art). More shops can be found along King Street and Wharfside Village, both areas easily accessible from the St John ferry dock.
Shopping options in Coral Bay are more commercial and include many stores which sell t-shirts and various other tourist tats. Most resorts in St John also house boutiques that offer items like swimwear, apparel, handicrafts, sunglasses and watches though prices at these onsite hotel boutiques are definitely higher than elsewhere.
Shops in St John are open daily from 10 am to 5pm, though some shops tend to stay open until 8pm during peak tourist season.
Where to eat in St. John
St John maybe a small, rather remote island but its dining scene features more than seventy restaurants offering a variety of cuisines at different price points. Compiling a ‘best of’ list is always a subjective affair given individual tastes and preferences, but according to recent surveys, the best restaurants in St John currently include eateries like La Plancha del Mar (American), ZoZo’s Ristorante (Italian), Jake’s (known for pancakes), La Tapa (Spanish food), Sun Dog Café (Caribbean-American fare), Shipwreck Landing (Caribbean eats), St John Waterfront Bistro (fine dining), Miss Lucy’s and Sogo’s Restaurant (both Caribbean eateries).
Nightlife in St. John
Beachside bars, sports bars, breweries, bars and pubs populate St John’s energetic nightlife arena. Popular and favored watering-holes on the island include hotspots like Iguana Grill, the Tap Room, Palm Passage Outdoor Bar, Larry’s Landing, Joe’s Rum Hut Bar, Motu and the Beach Bar.